Seawatch by Cristy Fry

April 15, 2021

The halibut season is off to a slow start in Homer, with so few deliveries that National Marine Fisheries Service doesn't list the landings because of privacy concerns.


What landings have taken place on the Kenai Peninsula have been in Seward, which has seen 172,674 pounds delivered as of Monday. 


Even Kodiak, which frequently beats out Homer for pounds delivered early in the season has only seen 44,261 pounds of halibut cross the dock.


Area 2C, Southeast Alaska, has had more action, with 511,998 pounds of halibut delivered mostly in Sitka and Juneau.


A large storm and an unusually cold spring has dampened interest by the Homer fleet, according to Jeff Berger, regional manager for Copper River Seafoods, but he expects that with better weather and the price improving more boats will take to the water.


“The price has been as low as $5.25 (per pound) and as high as $6.25,” he said, with most deliveries falling in the middle somewhere.


“It hasn't been a very high pace as far as landings go, so I expect some pretty serious fishing coming up,” Berger added, although he pointed out that Russian Easter is coming up the first of May, during which time the Russian fleet takes an eight-day holiday. That fleet makes up a large percentage of the Homer effort.


Statewide a total of 1.3 million pounds has been landed, which is an improvement over this time last year when the pandemic shuttered most restaurants and the price tanked. At this point in the season last year just 870,245 pounds had been delivered, compared to 2.06 million pounds in 2019.


Right now restaurants are starting to show signs of life with most states easing seating capacity restrictions and mask mandates.


Meanwhile, mask mandates continue aboard all commercial fishing vessels, even when sleeping, something that has caught the attention of Alaska's congressional delegation.


The Coast Guard issued a marine safety bulletin on March 22 that states its authority to restrict vessel access to ports and operations if they fail to follow the rules as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


“Senator (Lisa) Murkowski and I have been pressing this relentlessly on a call with the Coast Guard commandant, a call with the White House guy who’s supposedly in charge of all the CDC issues, we had a meeting with the head of the CDC, we are trying to explain to them how, no offense, but just how stupid this is and how uninformed it is,” Sen. Dan Sullivan said last week at a ComFish forum. “And it could be a safety issue, not with regard to COVID, but with having to wear masks when you’re out on the deck of a ship in 30-foot waves trying to bring in gear or pots. So, we’re going to continue to work on that one.” 


Feedback on the masking rule can be submitted at [email protected]. 


This article also appears in the Homer News.  Cristy Fry can be reached at [email protected].